19 Enchiladas and Counting: Sylvia's Enchilada Kitchen Debuts the Newest Addition to Its Menu

Though some bemoan the increasingly popular practice of "National [Insert Food Here] Month," I couldn't be happier that the 31 days of May are devoted to celebrating the enchilada. I've always thought the enchilada was underappreciated compared to, say, fajitas or tacos. A Yankee acquaintance of mine once smirked, "Isn't an enchilada, like, a burrito without the good stuff?" (Sigh. Don't worry, folks, his ignorant self is far, far away in Massachusetts.)

But even among people who can correctly differentiate Mexican dishes, there's a tendency to dismiss the enchilada as "lower-brow" Tex-Mex food. Granted, the enchilada doesn't always appear in its most elevated form and thus is unsurprisingly associated with cheese-heavy, excessively greasy, mono-flavored cuisine. You know, the type of Tex-Mex that sometimes occurs during a night of heavy drinking and is definitely just what the doctored order the next morning.

For the past 14 years, Sylvia Casares has effectively dismantled these stereotypes by repeatedly presenting Houstonians with sophisticated and inventive variations of the enchilada. The latest addition to Casares's mighty brood is the black bean enchilada, a delicate roll-up of smoky flavors and robust textures, crowned with a sprinkling of creamy queso fresco.

The Black Bean Enchilada is best enjoyed, however, in the company of its brothers and sisters. During a recent visit to the Woodway location of Sylvia's Enchilada Kitchen, I tried this creation and took advantage of another National Enchilada Month offering, the North and South enchilada parrillas, which feature four varieties that reflect the traditions of these Texas-Tex-Mex and Mexico-Mex-Mex cuisines, respectively.

If you order both parrillas (with, I suggest, a partner in crime), you'll be presented with eight different enchiladas ranging from the straightforward but satisfying Refugio cheese enchilada to the fiery Hidalgo carnitas enchilada to the decadent Laguna Madre crabmeat enchilada.

Each parrilla ($16.75 per person) comes with rice and beans, and a picomole salad. I would say it's the best "combination plate" in town, but that term does a disservice to the complexity of its individual components. "Enchilada Cornucopia" is my preferred descriptor.

Bookended by a delicious mango margarita and an outstanding chocolate tres leches cake, my dinner lacked for nothing. I only missed the opportunity to compliment Casares in person on her continued success; readers of EOW know that back in March she suffered a gunshot wound. I am pleased to tell you that Casares is doing well and enjoyed quite a productive convalescence period.

In fact, on Thursday, May 24, Casares will be unveiling the cover of her latest cooking text, The Enchilada Queen's Tex-Mex Cookbook, with a reception from 5 until 7 p.m. at her restaurant on Woodway, and on Sunday, May 27, from 3 until 5 p.m. at her restaurant on Westheimer. Casares has made a full recovery from her gunshot wound and expects to publish this cookbook in the fall of 2013. This will also be her first week back at the restaurant.

Selfishly I am eager for Sylvia's return as her sunny presence makes one's dining experience feel that much more like home cooking. I also wonder if Enchilada No. 20 will be announced sometime this year. Quality and quantity are not mutually exclusive, at least with regards to Sylvia's enchiladas, and I for one am loathe to impose limits on this woman's creativity.

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Joanna O'Leary